She Has Lupus But Just Won Her 7th ‘Real Tennis’ Title and Remains a World Champion

Most professional athletes are able to cope with occasional sprains and sore muscles. Claire Fahey a professional sports player, says she could brush off most of the inconveniences that came her way.

That was until, as she describes in an article over at Yahoo! News, she began to get strange health problems that began with dizziness followed by immense swelling in various fingers, knees, elbows, and shoulders. Claire initially thought she had pulled a muscle or spent too much time at the gym. There were a number of suppositions, but at one point the pain became so unbearable that Claire knew she needed help.

About Real Tennis

These issues were extremely troubling to Claire as she is a professional ‘real tennis’ champion. The game, different from our modern conception of tennis, was popularized by England’s King Henry VIII and has been currently revived by Prince Edward.

For those who are tennis enthusiasts, real tennis is played on high-walled courts with drooping nets. Top-level players must have a significant amount of speed and strength. (If you’d like to learn more about real tennis, tons of great information can be found here.)

Looking back at her years of world titles, Claire can count women’s titles in France, Britain, the United States, and Australia. She is now competing against top-tiered male players. When the symptoms began, she had just been accepted to the British Open. Claire had just begun preparing for her first match when, one morning, she could not even raise her arm. The pain was excruciating.

As Claire explains in the article, she called a general practitioner and was given emergency steroids that worked for several days.

The GP made an appointment for her to see a specialist. She spent the entire month of December in bed until it got to a point where she was unable to even hold a toothbrush.

A Busy Schedule

Claire and her husband, Rob, have two children, ages four and seven. They both have hectic schedules. Rob retired last year after winning 13 world tennis titles and is director of real tennis in Reading, Berkshire, as well as Claire’s full-time coach.

She had been preoccupied with the similarity of her symptoms and those of multiple sclerosis (MS). As appointment times to see a specialist with the National Health Service stretched for months, Claire decided during the Christmas recess to see a private specialist. By that time Claire had developed a butterfly-shaped rash on her face.

Claire says it was a great relief to hear the doctor say that he was almost 100 percent certain that Claire did not have MS but that she had an autoimmune disease called lupus. He explained that lupus is caused by an imbalance of the immune system causing spikes of inflammation. The disease can attack the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Typical symptoms include muscle pain and attacks on connective tissues as well as a rash on the cheeks and nose. Learn about about Lupus over at Patient Worthy’s disease cornerstone.

Although lupus was not an attractive alternative, it was a huge relief for Claire to be told definitively that it was not MS. The butterfly rash helped to confirm her diagnosis. The doctor gave Claire a little more good news. He said that although it is not curable, lupus can be controlled with drugs and lifestyle changes.

Claire’s doctor ordered blood tests to confirm and started her on hydroxychloroquine, and a high dose of emergency steroids to reduce the inflammation. Claire was now able to move without pain.

About Claire’s Test Results

In a week Claire and her doctor received the results of her blood tests. There were massive indicators (markers) of lupus. Her white blood cell level was low and her immune system was severely compromised.

Claire made an appointment at the lupus center in Berkshire, where she was told that her triggers were foods in the nightshade family. These foods, which include tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, cause painful flare-ups. Claire made drastic changes to her diet, which seemed to work.

But adjusting to her new diagnosis was not without setbacks, as Claire describes in the article. A test in June 2020 showed that protein had been leaking into her urine, damaging her kidneys. It took six months to get her kidney disease into remission.

Claire returned to defending her real-tennis single and double’s titles. By her own admission, she had been playing well and felt she had the lupus under control.

That was until February when she ate a delicious curry and lentil dish that Rob made for the family. Her agony was caused by the lentils he found in the kitchen cupboard, not realizing that the legumes were part of the nightshade family.  Claire had to use crutches for a few days, plus one week off sports. She used steroids to reduce the dangerous swelling

Claire got back into her routine of practicing for the world championships. She felt confident until the final singles match when she faced the world’s number two real tennis player, who had been moving up the ranks impressively.

Claire described the match as ‘very close’ but she won. It was her seventh world title and she enjoyed the feeling that all their hard work paid off. Claire says that since that victory she has been playing some of her best tennis.

Claire says that lupus has taught her family not to take things for granted. Pack as much as you can into every single day. You only appreciate your ability to accomplish things when that choice is taken away from you.

Want to keep up with Claire and learn more about the world of real tennis? You can follow her on Twitter, here.

Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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